TECH

Microsoft Band Review: More Manager Than Artist

20/04/2015 16:45 BST | Updated 20/04/2015 16:59 BST

microsoft band

Microsoft has finally entered the world of fitness trackers. Notice how I said fitness trackers and not smartwatches.

First launched in October 2014 in the US, the Band was rather cleverly released by Microsoft in extremely limited quantities. The idea being that the company could test the water without taking such a massive hit on costs if it failed to pick up.

While I haven't seen any figures, the fact that the band got a US national launch and now -- seven months later -- a global launch, must mean that it does something right.

As I discovered, the answer is yes it does, but just not enough to make me want to buy one. Here's why:

Having spent an entire afternoon trying to think of a good analogy for the Band it became clear that only one was going to stick: music.

So that got me thinking: If the Band were to belong to a member of say, The Wombats, or Bloc Party, who would be the kind of person to wear it?

The lead singer? Sadly not. The Band, although minimally stylish, is not the kind of wearable device that's going to replace your watch every single day. Its appearance is just too boring for a person that's going to be walking down the red carpet and throwing himself/herself at every flashing lens in sight.

That's not to say it wouldn't survive, the Band feels almost indestructible, another feather in a cap that so far includes the superbly built Surface and Xbox One.

microsoft band

What about the drummer? Well the drummer is going to encounter a problem, and that's step count. If you're wearing the Band all the time -- as you should be -- it's going to misinterpret every rendition of 'Let's Dance To Joy Division' as a half marathon.

I should point out at this point that every wrist-worn fitness tracker would do this. Perhaps that's something they should consider - a mode which takes into account the plight of the wellness-conscious drummer.

In this instance however, it's the always-on heart-rate monitoring that might come in handy. It's accurate and -- more impressively -- doesn't crush the Band's very respectable battery life.

microsoft band

Despite this, it's not for the drummer based on the simple fact that it's too chunky. Packed with more sensors than a weather balloon, the Band has taken a hit when it comes to size.

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OK so this isn't going to plan. What about the bassist? Out of principle the bassist wouldn't wear a smart watch because well, he's the bassist. They're too cool for technology of any kind.

This leaves me with either the second guitar player or singer and frankly the same rules apply. So I'm out of people right? Think again.

The manager, it makes perfect sense.

The modern manager is the ultimate workaholic. They're the kind of person that'll wake up at five, go for a run, lead a hot yoga class and then drink what mostly looks like hedge for breakfast.

microsoft band

Running is their 'down time', so they'd use the Band's GPS tracking to ditch the smartphone and go running 'off the grid'. Thanks to the heart-rate monitor's ability to track your 'burn rate' the Band is really good at making some quite complex information look really understandable.

When I actually took the Band running it became clear that if I wanted to, I could dig a whole lot deeper than I'd originally thought.

The greatest fitness addition however has to be the guided workouts feature. With instructional videos and the ability pick and choose you simply tap a button and it's there, ready to go on your Band.

microsoft band app

Notifications are simple and -- unless you're on Windows Phone -- non-actionable. This could be a problem, but I suspect they're far too busy to actually respond to anything they get sent through.

If they have a Windows Phone, then the Band becomes a whole lot more useful - Cortana becomes your PA when your PA is off getting you another hedge to drink. You can schedule appointments, ask questions and compose messages. Handy.

microsoft band app

The fact it also works with iPhone and Android is a major bonus as well. A manager will of course have more than one phone, so knowing that their band will work with all three is vital.

Oh and then there's Starbucks. The band comes with one third-party app, and that's the Starbucks card, letting you pay for the quadruple-shot Venti cappuccino without ever getting your phone out of its pocket.

Essentially you can probably see where I'm heading with this. The Band is not desirable in the same way that say, an Apple Watch is, or the Asus ZenWatch. Instead it's unobtrusive, yet powerful.

I think what I like most about the Band is the idea of the Band itself, a product that just keeps on ticking in the background acting as both a coach and an enabler. Where it falters, is in actually making me want one. In tech years it's too old, it's also nowhere near good-looking enough and the screen is tiny, pixellated and tiny, which is a real shame.

Would I buy the Band? Not yet, but if Microsoft sticks with it I can absolutely imagine myself buying the Band 2.

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